Sports News: Sault Ste. Marie, Canada & International Headlines | Sault This Week
RIP, George Wood
We have lost another good one. Just 53 years old, George Wood passed away suddenly recently, leaving behind a loving family including parents, wife, sons and many others. Quietly active in the community as a business owner and low-key hockey parent, George typified a good, simple, humble guy — someone who was happy just to talk about his family, fish, hunt and have a beer. I knew George through hockey and mutual friends, such as my good buddy, Dr. Kevin Caruso. Both of George’s boys are players, the oldest, Caleb, a 20-year-old forward with the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League. It is easy to describe George because he was just an unassuming guy who always seemed to fit in, no matter who he was around. Bless you and your family and friends, George. And the next time I drink an Alexander Keith’s beer, the toast will be to you.
London Knights OHL history has notable Sault links to it
Given their sustained success as co-owners and as general manager and head coach, it sometimes seems as though the dynamic duo of Dale Hunter and Mark Hunter have always operated the London Knights. But the Knights had an illustrious — if not as prolific — presence in the Ontario Hockey League long before the Hunter boys arrived in London back in 2000. In short, there were Knights before there were Hunters. Actually, to be sure, before the London Knights they were the London Nationals, who entered the league in 1965 — the OHL was officially known then as the ‘Ontario Hockey Association Major Junior A Series’. Three years later, the legendary Howard Darwin bought the team and its home arena, the old London Gardens. Mr. Darwin would then change the team name from Nationals to Knights and its colours from blue and white to green and gold. And thus, in 1968, the London Knights were born. I had the pleasure of meeting and mingling with the late Mr. Darwin and to this day, he remains one of the classiest and finest gentlemen I have met in my media career that began in 1975. A self made man who was born into poverty, peddled newspapers as a young boy, and rose to make a fortune as a jeweler and real estate investor, Mr. Darwin — who owned the Knights for close to 20 years — was a sports fanatic and promoter who had a kind, friendly word on each and every occasion that we talked over various occurrences. And in a touch of irony, he sold the London franchise to a group that was fronted by another true gentleman who I got to know, the late Al Martin. As for Mr. Darwin, he ran the Knights like the good businessman that he was and the team also enjoyed a good amount of success under long-time coach — and another gentleman — Bill Long. The venerable Long coached the Knights for eight full seasons and had a winning record in six of them. And towards the end of his tenure as owner of the Knights, Mr. Darwin made a business decision that worked out well when he hired Robert Irvine as promotions manager to boost advertising and ticket sales and make the franchise even more financially attractive. Of note, the hustling Irvine was a former disc jockey at Sault Ste. Marie radio station CKCY, where he gained fame under the name Robert E. Lee.
NHL staffs a plentiful crew from the Sault in hockey operations
There is more to the current Sault Ste. Marie connection to the National Hockey League than the many players who are either from the Sault or who played for the Ontario Hockey League Greyhounds. A lot more. As a matter of fact, there are in excess of 20 guys with a link to the Sault who are part of NHL staffs as coaches, general managers and scouts. Following is an alphabetical look at the Sault crew that is involved in hockey operations for a number of NHL teams. Jeff Beukeboom. The 55-year-old Beukeboom has bounced around as an assistant coach with teams in the OHL, NHL and the American Hockey League since his notable playing days. A big defenceman who played three seasons in the OHL with the Greyhounds and in more than 900 NHL games, Beukeboom now works for the New York Rangers as an amateur scout. Bob Boughner. A former Greyhound captain as a bruising OHL defenceman, the 49-year-old Boughner went on to suit up in 700 NHL games before turning to coaching and becoming a Memorial Cup championship coach with his hometown Windsor Spitfires. Boughner has since become an accomplished head coach in the NHL and now mans the bench for San Jose Sharks. Don Boyd. Still active at age 68, Boyd coached the OHL Greyhounds with little success from 1986 to 1989. He went to work in player personnel at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets and now serves as a scout for the Ottawa Senators. Trevor Daley. A star defenceman over four OHL seasons with the Greyhounds, Daley would go on to play in more than 1,100 NHL games before retiring at the end of the 2019-2020 season. A likeable guy, the 37-year-old Daley was recently hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a hockey operations adviser. Mike Dawson. As a medium-size defenceman, Dawson made it to the OHL through hard work and perseverance. A seventh round pick of the Kingston Frontenacs from the Soo Legion midgets at the 1990 priority selections draft, Dawson went on to play three full seasons in the OHL. Now 47 years of age, the Sault Ste. Marie product has taken his work ethic and knowledge of the game to an ongoing full-time scouting position in the NHL. Hired by the Carolina Hurricanes as a part time scout in 2012, Dawson eventually was promoted to a full time role and then a year ago, became the NHL team’s head North American scout. But just recently, Dawson opted to leave the Hurricanes to take a position as a crossover scout with the new Seattle Kraken franchise that will begin play as an NHL expansion team effective the 2021-2022 season. In leaving Carolina for Seattle, Dawson has been reunited with Kraken general manager and fellow Saultite Ron Francis. Kyle Dubas. Just 35 years old, Dubas is in his third season as general manager of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. A local lad, Dubas had a successful run as GM of the OHL Greyhounds from 2012 to 2015 before first moving up to the NHL as an assistant GM for the Maple Leafs. Danny Flynn. An assistant coach with the Greyhounds Memorial Cup championship team of 1993, Flynn has since held a number of major junior and Canadian university coaching positions. A hockey vagabond, Flynn has also been an NHL assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders and now scouts for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ron Francis. A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 57-year-old Francis played parts of two OHL seasons with his home town Greyhounds before going to an illustrious NHL playing career of 1,800 games as a super star center who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The gentlemanly Francis was then an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes before becoming their general manager. He is now the GM for the Seattle Kraken, which will begin play as an NHL expansion team next season. John Goodwin. A former OHL rookie of the year and scoring champion with the Greyhounds, Goodwin would later have coaching roles with the Oshawa Generals, North Bay Battalion and Kingston Frontenacs. The 59-year-old good guy is now in the employ of looming NHL expansion team Seattle Kraken as a pro scout. Craig Hartsburg. The 61-year-old Hartsburg retired from the game in a full time capacity in 2016 after an eventful 27-year coaching career that included 19 seasons in the NHL and successful stints in the OHL and Western Hockey League. As a star player of great character, Hartsburg had a world-class career as an all-star defenceman with both the OHL Greyhounds and the erstwhile Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He was captain of the Greyhounds for two of his three OHL seasons and was captain of the North Stars for seven of his 10 NHL seasons. A good, honest, down to earth individual, Hartsburg came out of retirement last year to take on a part-time scouting and player development role with one of the many NHL teams that he coached, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobby Jones. Another good guy of the game and a former Greyhound defenceman, captain and assistant coach, Jones more than paid his dues in the OHL coaching ranks over close to 25 years with several teams before moving up to the NHL. Hailing from the nearby Sault Ste. Marie hamlet of Haviland Bay, the 51-year-old Jones is now in his second season as an assistant coach with the NHL Ottawa Senators. While an assistant coach in the OHL with Windsor, Jones was part of two Memorial Cup championship teams with the Spitfires. As good and loyal a person as can be found in the game. Sheldon Keefe. Having coached the Greyhounds for three successful seasons after being hired by Kyle Dubas, the 40-year-old Keefe is back with his friend again in the NHL with Toronto. This is Keefe’s first full season with the Maple Leafs after having had championship success with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Seamus Kotyk. A former championship goalie with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, the Sault Ste. Marie product is now the goalie development coach for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. The likeable Kotyk also had a stint as goalie coach with the OHL Greyhounds. Rick Kowalsky. The celebrated captain of the OHL Greyhounds as a relentless right winger during their 1993 Memorial Cup season, Kowalsky has since made a career out of coaching. The 48-year-old has been with the New Jersey Devils organization for a dozen years and is now the player development coach for the NHL club. Paul Maurice. After a solid OHL career as a defenceman with the Windsor Spitfires, the Sault Ste. Marie product began his coaching career at the age of 21. After coaching in the OHL for parts of six seasons with Windsor and the erstwhile Detroit Junior Wings, Maurice made it in the NHL as a bench boss and has stayed in the Show for 25 years. He is now in his eighth season at the helm of the Winnipeg Jets and the 53-year-old is known as an upfront, honest, intelligent individual. Brian McGrattan. The big forward only played part of a season with the OHL Greyhounds before skating in more than 300 NHL games. The 39-year-old McGrattan is now a player development assistant with the Calgary Flames. Ron Pyette. A Sault boy, Pyette has forged a good career as an NHL scout. Formerly with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, Pyette now scouts for the Los Angeles Kings. Mike Stapleton. After parts of four seasons as assistant coach and head coach with the OHL Greyhounds, Stapleton moved on from the Sault. The 51-year-old is now an NHL scout with the Anaheim Ducks. Steve Sullivan. From a free agent walk on to the Greyhounds who became an OHL scoring star, the pint-sized pivot further defied the odds to play in more than 1,000 NHL games after being a ninth round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils. A Timmins native, the 46-year-old Sullivan is now the assistant general manager of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. Rick Tocchet. After three good OHL seasons with the Greyhounds and the distinction of being team captain, Tocchet broke into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers and went on to play in more than 1,200 games in the Show. The 51-year-old Tocchet is now in his fourth NHL season as coach of the Arizona Coyotes. Dave Torrie. Known for his hard work while general manager of the OHL Greyhounds for eight seasons, Torrie led the Soo to five playoff appearances before being fired in 2011. He has since landed on his feet as an NHL scout and after a gig with the Buffalo Sabres, Torrie now works as a pro scout for the Los Angeles Kings. Rob Zettler. Another former Greyhound captain, Zettler played four full OHL seasons in the Sault before going on to skate in close to 600 NHL games as a dependable defenceman. The 52-year-old Zettler has since had a lengthy coaching career in both the AHL and NHL. He is now in his first season as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
HOPE AND HOCKEY ARE GOING HAND IN HAND
The best that hockey leagues in northeastern Ontario can hope for relative to the provincial government’s stay-at-home order is that the current lock down will be lifted on schedule on or about the weekend of February 12. Hope is an operative word in this current climate of COVID-19. And given that northeastern Ontario is not home to any COVID-19 hot spot areas, a return to play in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and Great North Under 18 Hockey League may be within reach at some point in February. In a good case scenario, with the approval of the various public health units of Ontario as well as the provincial government, we could well see a return to play for both of the aforementioned northeastern Ontario based leagues. And with the co-operation of the various municipalities that operate community-owned rinks, perhaps deals can be struck that will keep ice in the arenas into the month of May. That would and could, for example, allow the nine operating teams of the NOJHL to get in eight or nine more weeks of regular season play and, perhaps, a shortened playoff schedule. And ditto for the six major and two minor teams that operate as members of the information-elusive, Great North U18 loop. The nine teams of the NOJHL have currently played an impressive 41 of the 44 scheduled matches that took place between mid-November and the third week of December. In the NOJHL West Division, the Espanola Express (4-4-2) and Rayside Balfour Canadians (3-6-1) have both played 10 games, Blind River Beavers (5-3-0) and Soo Thunderbirds (4-3-1) have seen action in eight outings apiece, while the French River Rapids (3-3-0) have skated in six contests. And in the NOJHL East Division, Timmins Rock (9-3-0) and Hearst Lumberjacks (7-5-0) have both played 12 games, Cochrane Crunch (3-6-2) has been involved in 11 outings and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (3-2-0) have skated in six matches. (Powassan Voodoos, because of arena issues, have officially taken a leave of absence for the balance of the season. And the Soo Eagles have yet to play a game against NOJHL competition this season because of the closure of the Canada/United States border, though the Michigan-based team has played a number of exhibition matches against American squads and schools.) Over to the Great North U18 loop, slated major division, exhibition mini matches between cohort opponents Soo Jr. Greyhounds v. Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves, Timmins Majors v. Kapuskasing Flyers and New Liskeard Cubs v. North Bay Trappers have all reportedly taken place on schedule. But the Great North has not posted any sort of game results or standings information — and news to come out of the league office has been as scarce as snow in July, leaving any media person to deal directly with individual team representatives. As for the number of games that could be played in the NOJHL should play resume in, say, the latter part of February — the nine active teams could still total anywhere from 25 to 35 contests apiece over the course of the season as opposed to the 56 that each club played over past regular seasons. Would that be ideal? Well, there is no ideal these days. Prior formats are out the window due to COVID-19. And any return to play in any form of modified schedule would, I am quite sure, be most welcomed and appreciated by players, coaches, managers, owners, fans, and media alike. Here is hoping that hockey in northeastern Ontario gets the go ahead from public health and the government on schedule and on time as all concerned continue to do due diligence as per following the rules of these trying times. To be sure, the words ‘hope and hockey’ are going hand in hand more than ever these days.
Sault coach Jim Capy led Blind River to its first winning season in the NOJHL
It was a struggling franchise in need of coaching direction. The early years of the Blind River Beavers in what is the modern day Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League yielded very few victories for the small market franchise. To be sure, the Beavers won just 31 of 178 games over four seasons that began with their debut campaign of 2000-2001. In fact, it was not until the 2004-2005 campaign when coach Jim Capy arrived in Blind River via the Soo Thunderbirds that the Beavers had a winning season. Through its first four seasons in the NOJHL — 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 — Blind River was not a preferred destination for players until Beavers general manager Don Lees Jr. brought Capy aboard as coach to begin the 2004-2005 term. Capy had led the aforementioned Soo Thunderbirds to the NOJHL finals in all four seasons at the helm of his hometown team while helping no less than 16 of his players get Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association scholarships. It was Capy’s ability to combine recruiting with coaching that made him attractive to the Beavers after he parted ways with the Thunderbirds. And the then 47-year-old bench boss did not disappoint in his first season in Blind River. “Jim has brought a lot of credibility to us in terms of his contacts and the success he has had,” aforementioned Beavers general manager Don Lees Jr. told Sault This Week at the time. “Jim is a winner. He eats and breathes and sleeps hockey and we’re just so fortunate to have someone like Jim Capy as our coach.” After having posted an abysmal overall record of 31-141-6 in four seasons prior to the arrival of Capy, Blind River became an NOJHL force to be reckoned with in 2004-2005. With a fired-up Capy and even-tempered assistant coach Kevin Cain behind the bench, Blind River finished the 48-game regular season with a record of 27-18-3 and established a fierce rivalry with the big boys from the Soo. Well covered by yours truly and Sault This Week, the Beavers were all of a sudden on the NOJHL map as Capy and Cain made it work in Blind River with a combination of local and area talent as well as American players from four different states. There were two hometown Blind River boys on the Beavers – goalie Brock Lees and forward Darren Rainville. From the Sault area were goalie Kevin King, defenceman Sean O’Dell and forwards Adam Combs, Ken Reid and (heart and soul captain) Billy Schill. And blueliners Lucas Goodall and Shaun Siemers were from the nearby towns of Thessalon and Echo Bay, respectively. From elsewhere came scoring star Thomas Laplante via Ste Foy, Que. as well as a host of American-born imports that included plum defencemen Mike Bernardy, Art Clark and Jeff Wills and high-end forwards Matt Buha, Jake Erway and Jason Wiley. The Beavers first-ever winning season would end in the playoffs with a hotly-contested series loss to coach Toots Kovacs and the Thunderbirds in which the rinks in both Blind River and the Sault were packed for each and every game. All these years later, Blind River is still a big part of the NOJHL and has been enjoying unprecedented franchise success over the past four seasons under current Beavers coach-general manager Kyle Brick. But it was back in 2004-2005 when NOJHL glory first hit the gritty little hockey town of Blind River with the now iconic Capy as the bench boss.
weather (Sault Ste. Marie)
ON THE ROCKS: Four-time world champ Howard says increased curling bubble fields are ‘awesome’ but also ‘more convoluted and controversial’
With most provinces cancelling playdowns and naming representatives, the 18-team fields for the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts are starting to take shape, but the final lists won’t be released without some controversy.